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by Wayne Faust
2010 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
2010 by Wayne Faust
The world was aching. There was an emptiness in people's hearts and no one could remember a time when it hadn't been so. The Tasks had been invented over 500 years ago, according to the scribes, but as much as they tried, no one could do them all. Because of that, the Gate remained closed.
The Gate stood on top of a hill at the edge of the Capital. It reached up nearly to the clouds, and it was set into an equally high Wall, which stretched all the way around the world. No one had ever been to the top of the Wall, although on certain clear nights, you could see a warm, amber light glowing above it. It was this glow that caused such a longing in the people, for somehow they knew that God dwelled on the other side. But He was hopelessly out of reach.
"Father?" asked the young girl, "did you ever try to open the Gate?"
They had finished their prayers and the father was getting ready to blow the candle out.
"Many times," he said. "I once got to the 27th Task, but then I made a mistake and had to start all over. I never got that far again."
"How many Tasks are there?" asked the girl.
"No one knows. The best anyone has ever done is to get to number 128. That took over 7 hours."
"Why can't the priests memorize the Tasks so they can keep going farther until they make it to the end?"
The father smiled at the sharp intelligence of his daughter. "It would be wonderful if they could do that," he answered. "But the Tasks are different each time. And so far, everyone has fallen short. So the Gate remains closed."
"Why do they keep trying?" asked the girl.
"Because to not try is to give up hope. And living without hope would be just too sad. You're very young and already you know that. Remember how sad you were when your mother died?"
The girl nodded.
"Things like that happen every day. To everybody. The Holy Writings tell us that if we can make ourselves worthy enough to get through the Gate then we will be with God, and he will wipe away every tear."
As if in answer to her father's words, the girl began to cry. "But what if the Gate never opens at all?"
The father gathered up the girl in his arms and rocked her softly. "The priests tell us that someday a hero will come. He will be able to achieve every Task. And then the Gate will open."
The little girl looked up. "When will this hero come?"
"No one knows. But if we pray very hard, maybe we can make him come sooner."
"Then I'll pray all night long," said the girl. And indeed she tried, but like most little girls, she fell asleep before the moon was high.
The excitement began a week later. The whole Capital was talking about the stranger who had come to town and climbed the hill. He still hadn't come back down. Someone went up to see what he was doing and found him going through Tasks like no other. There were whispers that maybe this could be the one, the long expected hero.
The father and daughter made their way up the hill. They found hundreds of people near the Gate. The father, being very tall, was able to see over the crowd. He lifted his daughter onto his shoulders.
They saw the stranger in front of the Wall. He wasn't much to look at and he had a thin voice that didn't command much power. But he was meeting each challenge from the wall. Each time he finished one Task, writing would appear in the marble of the Gate, instructing him on what to do next. The father remembered his own tries with the Tasks and felt guilty all over again at his failure. But the stranger wasn't failing.
"How long has he been here?" asked the father to a woman standing beside him.
"Three days," she answered, and the father felt his heart race. Was this unassuming stranger really the one?
"He looks very tired," said the daughter from her perch on her father's shoulders. And indeed, the stranger looked exhausted. He was doing some kind of purification Task with a thorn bush. His hands were bleeding.
'Three days,' thought the father. 'This is so much longer than anyone has ever gone and still the Gate remains closed. How much more can there be?'
As dusk came on, it began to rain. The people turned away and headed down the hill into town, hoping against hope that the stranger would somehow be able to finish all the Tasks.
Morning broke clear and bright. The father and daughter ascended the hill, along with many others, to check on the stranger. They found him still at his work, although clearly at the end of his rope. He could barely lift his feet off the ground. But still he gathered plants for purification and recited verses. Occasionally he would stumble and fall, but he always pushed himself to his feet again, however slowly. His hands and feet were both dripping blood, leaving small red spots in the dirt. The people wanted to give him strength, to cheer him on, but they were afraid to even whisper because that might break his concentration. They kept a close eye on the Gate, however, hoping that at any moment it would creak open.
recited one more Holy verse in a weak, raspy voice. The words on the wall
changed again. Three words appeared in very large letters, large enough for the
whole crowd to read.
THE FINAL TASK
A gasp rose from the crowd. The three words faded. They were replaced by just one word - in letters stretching up and out of sight. It was three letters long, and blood red.
Someone began to cry. Someone else said it must be a mistake.
The stranger staggered. He put his hands on his hips and straightened up. He turned to the crowd. He was clearly having trouble breathing. He raised his arms and blood dripped from his hands. He took a deep breath, and with one last, shuddering effort, he managed to shout out two final words in a raspy voice.
The stranger collapsed to the ground and was still.
No one moved for a long moment. A doctor pushed his way through the crowd and bent over the stranger. He took the man's pulse. He looked up and shook his head.
"It said it was the Final Task," someone cried.
"Did he accomplish it?" someone else asked.
Everyone looked toward the Gate. The awful, blood red word had faded. But the Gate didn't open. Someone ran up and pushed on it but it held fast. A woman pounded her fist on the marble, tears rolling down her cheeks. But it was no use.
"All for nothing," someone said. "The Gates were never meant to open at all."
As night fell, the people made their hopeless way down the long, long hill, and finally fell asleep in a world of mourning.
Three days later the daughter woke early. The city was quiet and still in shock. Even though she wasn't supposed to go outside on her own, the girl slipped from her house and made her way up the hill. Something drew her on. As the sun rose behind her, she approached the massive Wall.
The girl's eyes grew wide for there was a gap in the Wall where the Gate used to be. Soft, amber light shone through from the other side. The girl could feel a warmth, an indescribable love come over her. Standing near the opening was the stranger, smiling as bright as the sun. He was no longer disheveled, no longer beaten down.
And he was no longer dead.
The girl was so stunned that she did the only thing she could think of. She ran back down the hill as fast as she could and woke her father.
Ten minutes later the father and daughter approached the Wall. The father saw the stranger, now alive again, and he fell to his knees. He too felt the warmth and love radiating from the other side. He felt a touch on his shoulder.
"Stand and enter," said the stranger, who had approached the father and was now standing in front of him.
The father got to his feet, shaking. "But the Tasks," he sputtered. "How can I do what you did?"
The stranger put both hands on the man's shoulders. "The Tasks are finished," he said. "I've done them all. For all time. For you."
The father wiped at his eyes. "What must I do then?"
"Simply enter," came the reply.
It was almost too much to believe. After a lifetime of failure, he was being asked to simply walk forward. With a feeling of unspeakable joy, the father took his daughter's hand and they both did just that, moving into the incredible Light on the other side of the Wall.
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